After a six-year hiatus, the Pirates of the Caribbean are back for a new adventure which sees Captain Jack Sparrow’s past come back to, quite literally, haunt him. Turning the attention away from huge set pieces and back to the character story, the franchise has returned to basics and to top form with a fun and exciting new story which not only gets the adrenaline pumping but also occasionally tugs at the heart strings.
Director: Joachim Rønning, Espen Sandberg
Starring: Johnny Depp, Javier Bardem, Brenton Thwaites, Kaya Scodelario, Kevin McNally, Geoffrey Rush
Run Time: 129 minutes
Release Date: May 25, 2017
It’s been nearly a decade and a half since the Black Pearl first set sail and in that time it is safe to say that we’ve seen the franchise rise and fall from glory. Since the original curse was lifted, much love for the series has diminished with each subsequent sequel, and while that hasn’t necessarily hindered the box office too much, many will view this fifth outing with skepticism. As one of those many, my expectations were low, Stranger Tides did very little to convince me that the franchise was worth saving and so bringing it back after such a gap was never going to be met with much positivity.
For the most part, this new film tries to avoid mentioning its predecessor, acting more as a direct sequel to the original trilogy and how those stories shaped the world that these characters now live in. The early introduction of Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites), Will and Elizabeth’s son, sets much of the groundwork for that connection as we quickly learn of his quest to remove the curse of the Dutchman and bring his father home, at any cost, even if that means recruiting a certain rum-obsessed pirate captain against his father’s wishes.
One of the movie’s biggest assets is its pace, set early on as very little runtime passes before we meet the villain of the story, a legendary pirate hunter named Salazar (Javier Bardem) whose undead crew are out for vengeance. Their target, Captain Jack Sparrow.
Never one to start a movie on a high, Jack’s introduction finds him in yet another sorry state, as a botched robbery sees his last remaining crewmates abandon him. With yet another undead crew on his tail, however, Henry and fellow franchise debutant Carina (Kaya Scodelario) quickly convince Sparrow to join their quest to find a treasure that has the power to solve all their problems.
Depp’s return as Sparrow is strangely underwhelming, his early scenes lacking the charm of his dastardly pirate in favour of his more clownish side and while there are a few laugh out loud moments, many of the early attempts at humour do fall flat. As the movie progresses, however, Sparrow goes from strength to strength, helped hugely by an interesting new backstory and also the return of Geoffrey Rush’s Barbossa. The chemistry between to the two pirate captains has consistently been one of the highlights of the franchise and seeing the two back on board the Pearl together is nothing short of a jump for joy moment. Rush is easily the star of the third act of the movie, a mixture of the actor’s considerable talent and a heartwarming expansion of his character’s story set him apart from his fellow actors.
Newcomers Thwaites and Scodelario make a likeable duo, stepping perfectly into Bloom and Knightley’s boots as the young adventurous couple thrown together by circumstance. The movie’s pace isn’t ideal for growing new characters which the audience can connect with, but despite a couple of moments somewhat muted by the franchise titans that surround them, these two stand up to the challenge. Scodelario’s Carina throws away the Pirates’ female protagonist template in favour of something a little different, using intellect as her strength over the brute force used by Knightley and Cruz. It may take the movie’s entire runtime, but by the closing credits it is clear that the two newbies have helped to reinvigorate the franchise and set it down a new path, should Disney continue it.
The biggest disappointment, sadly, is Salazar and his band of undead soldiers (plus a trio of zombie sharks). Oscar winner Bardem does his absolute best, providing a sinister unforgiving man out for blood and he is convincing throughout, but with a backstory that will leave you morally conflicted and the absolute minimal screen time to explore it, you never really feel like this character is a real threat. Despite a number similarities to the Pearl’s cursed crew, the shock factor is never quite there, these guys never have that “Take a walk” moment that hooked us all in back in 2003.
In the absence of real villainy, the action set pieces fill the void brilliantly by reintroducing the key element missing from every Pirates sequel up to this point, FUN. Yes, Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End have their moments, but like so many other misguided franchises turned more dark and gritty, losing much of the charm in the process. Pirates 5 does away with doom and gloom and returns the franchise to what it was meant to be, a fantasy adventure series. From the subtle and comical nods to previous movies (Jack and Henry’s banter regarding his mother being one particular highlight) to the outlandish slapstick set to the iconic theme tune, the full two-hour runtime never gives you a chance to get bored.
Overall, the newest addition to the Pirates of the Caribbean is far from perfect, but it does a fantastic job of trying to be, fixing so many of the mistakes which have plagued the franchise as well as setting it on a promising new course thanks to the talented newcomers.
While Depp’s Sparrow never fully recaptures what made him such a loveable character in the first movie, reintroducing a leading group rather than him being in the spotlight alone is the masterstroke which ultimately pushes the movie up. Coupled with an element of fun which has seemed lost for the past few adventures and you’ve got the best Pirates outing in over a decade.
Visually stunning, an entertaining story throughout, a cast on top form. Had Salazar been given more time to evolve, this could have been the best film of the franchise.
- Finally, the heightened element of fun has returned to the franchise
- Newcomers Thwaites and Scodelario excel in their roles
- Returning cast deliver on top form
- Despite Javier Bardem’s best efforts, Salazar never hits the villainous peaks of previous Pirates bad guys
- A few of the early jokes fall flat